Sunday 2 September 2012

The Carpenter's Shop AGM

These reflections were shared at the 31st Annual Meeting of The Carpenter's Shop, Cape Town, on 30 August 2012.

Dear Friends, it is a great joy and privilege to be with you this evening. Let me start by thanking Chuma, Colin and everyone for their testimonies. These speak louder than anything I will say tonight and I am grateful, as they will aid me in my comments tonight.

Thank you, Geoff, thank you, Dee, for your invitation to come to the AGM, and to share a few words. Thank you to the board members for what you do. I wish to also acknowledge Revd Terry Lester, a board member, and Rector of Christ Church Constantia.

It is good to be with you – having been unable to join you a year ago. Nonetheless, you are often in my mind. Geoff, I have to say that it was very clever – even very sneaky – of you to give me that ‘useful pot’ of recycled glass, made at the Carpenter’s Shop. For it sits on my desk, holding pens and other bits and pieces, and I see it almost daily. It is one of those prompts, which come to us in so many ways, to encourage us to pray for one another, as St Paul prayed for the Philippians: ‘I thank my God every time I remember you, always praying for you with joy in every one of my prayers for you, because of your sharing in the gospel ...’ (Phil1:3-5).

The word ‘gospel’ means, as we know, ‘good news’. To share in the gospel is to share in bringing good news to those who need it. And it is part of the human condition that all of us need good news, in one way or another.

If the Carpenter’s Shop is about anything, it is about bringing good news to the poor. So I thank God for your partnership in the gospel – that you have seen a need, and seen God’s vision for meeting that need: not merely in providing hand-outs, but in providing skills and support, so that people can be helped to help themselves. And it is good news for the whole person, in the way that you integrate skills training with other assistance, such as access to social worker assessments and support for rehabilitation, or facilitation reconnection with families, or helping with physical needs and health concerns.

And all of this is done within the context of spiritual support, and compassionate care. It really is good news for the whole person, as God sees us. For he made us with hearts and souls and minds and bodies, and to be individuals who live in good relationships with neighbours. And it seems to me that you are addressing the whole person, of those clients who come to you: their emotional, spiritual, mental and physical needs; their needs as individuals, to recover dignity and self-respect; and their needs in terms of having positive, affirming, relationships with others. It is all very, very, gospel-shaped: and for this I give thanks to God, for you, and for all you are doing.

Thank you, Geoff, for the way you have steered the Board. Thank you for strengthening ties with the church – particularly with St Thomas, Rondebosch. And thanks to the people of St Thomas, too, for rising to the challenge. Thank you for the way you, and those who work with you, have been able to consolidate and expand the work of the Carpenter’s Shop – particularly through taking the step of appointing your first full-time Director. Thank you, too, to Dee, for coming on board, and for the additional focus and direction that you have been able to bring. And thank you to all who work with you, and who support you, in so many different ways.

As I come here today, ‘thank you’ is a great part of what is on my heart to share. Also on my heart is a desire to bring encouragement – to you, and to all of us in the face of the great challenges we see within this city, within our nation. For it is all too easy to get downhearted. We have vast problems – some inherited from our past, but others rooted in our own time. Yes, we know that the difficulties are great, and that our capacity is weak – but it is will-power, effort, energy, hard work, on the part of those who are supposed to be giving a lead, that we all too often feel we are lacking – especially when they appear to focus more on power and money for themselves, their families and cronies.

And this is very disheartening and demoralising. The tragedy at the Lonmin mine did not happen in a vacuum. As I said at the Memorial Service in Marikana last Thursday, and at the inter-faith service the previous day in St George’s Cathedral, when things went very wrong there, they followed on from things going very wrong in too many other areas of our national life.

But the word of God to us is that we should not be disheartened. This week, I have been struck again by a verse from St Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, which we have been reading in our daily Eucharists at Bishopscourt. He says ‘Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right’ (2 Thess 3:13). God will strengthen you, strengthen us, first of all spiritually – so that we will not give in to the temptation to be disheartened, downcast, and to feel our efforts are worthless and so give up. For working for good, to bring gospel-shaped new hope, new life, to others, is, I am sure, as much a spiritual as a political or social battle.

Second, he will then strengthen us in our words and actions. For, as we continue to trust in God, and be inspired by his own message of new hope and new life, we will find his encouragement, his strength, within us, to persevere in doing good; and to hold up a light to illuminate a path forwards. This is God’s good news to us, today and every day.

So then, God’s message is that we should not let the problems become our central focus. That will only weigh us down and distract us. God’s message is that we should keep our eyes on the vision of good news that he sets before us, and we should support every area within our nation in which we see his promises reflected. When this is at the heart of our thinking, talking, planning, it will be the magnet that draws us in the direction in which we want to go and need to go.

And indeed, we can say this with confidence to our country, and the society around us. For behavioural scientists today tell us that to focus on our vision is far more effective than letting what is holding us back dominate our lives. They have found out what God has taught us since the beginning – that we should not, and need not, get tired of aiming for the good.

We should persevere with confidence, in whatever way God calls us – whether it is through the work of The Carpenter’s Shop; or in striving for the highest ethical standards in our own professional lives; or in speaking out within the public space; or wherever we have the opportunity to uphold and promote all that is gospel-shaped in our communities.

St Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, with which I began, wrote in the very next verse: ‘I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ’ (Phil 1:6). Dear friends, let us dare to have that confidence too – have this confidence tonight, in your AGM, as you assess your work, and as you plan for the future.

And so let me end by sharing in St Paul’s prayer with which he then follows: ‘And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight, to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God’ (Phil 1:9-11). May it be so. Amen.

For more information about The Carpenter's Shop, see